Robata Soho: Good Food, Good Drinks, Good Neon
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'You were my cup of tea', reads the neon hanging in the entrance to Robata, 'but I drink sake now.'
Brutal. But then the food at Robata isn't pulling any punches either.
The new opening is one of those restaurants-but-nearly-bars, where it's dark and hyper enough to feel like a late night no matter what time you're in there. One of those places where the menu lends itself equally to long, noisy dinners which hit every section on the menu, or to a night fuelled mostly by plum-wine cocktails with some bar snacks as a — hot, crispy and mayo-covered — sidebar.
It's Japanese charcoal cooking with a junky edge: smoky flavours, sticky glazes, thick dribbles of mayo, generous heaps of spring onion garnish.
Star turns are from the smaller plates section of the menu: kimchi gyoza, sticky and slippery, small bites of vinegary heat; Japanese fried chicken bao that create a BYO bib situation, the explosive mess we make worth it for the competing layers of hirata-bun fluffiness, the batter crunch and the gloopy mayo. And the deep-fried squid, the batter's cloud-light crunch and the zhug-like hot green salsa it comes with making it one of the best versions of the standard-ish dish we've ever had.
Crab rolls, and some oyster mushroom and beef fillet skewers hot from the robata-grill, are solid options for people less smitten with the umami, fat and chilli slam of the bao and deep-fried plates than we are.
The large plates section of the menu is appealing, but less so than the chance to play the field with the smaller plates. Prices are bigger in line with the portion size, and you're probably limiting yourself to just one — admittedly, that could be one beautifully tender robata-grilled duck breast, with a nice punch of freshness from the corn salsa and slivers of radish. The miso aubergine's the only underwhelmer of the evening — and to be fair, it's more of an overwhelmer: the sauce heavy, lemon curd-sweet and custard-thick; we struggle to make a real dent in the hefty slab.
It's a dinner of big highs, multiple would-order-agains — and there's not much we wouldn't promptly have ordered a second round of that same evening.
Dive bar buzz, where you can eat like a (greedy, messy) king.
Robata is our cup of sake.
Robata, 56 Old Compton Street, W1D 4UE.
Last Updated 01 July 2019